Cliftonville six-year-old out of school for more than two months in dispute over special needs support

Nina says her son Theo needs an Education Health Care Plan and high needs support

A Cliftonville mum says her six-year-old son has not been to school for more than two months due to a dispute over special needs provision, appropriate levels of support and the failure to get an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) put in place.

Nina Sellen, 31, says Palm Bay Primary pupil Theo, who is diagnosed autistic and awaiting an assessment for ADHD, is not getting the help he needs and she feels she has “more chance of winning the lottery” than getting a suitable education for her son.

The youngster has been excluded from school on two occasions and last attended in March.

Issues arose in December when the teacher who had been pushing for one-to-one support for Theo, left the school. A lunchtime supervisor who helped Theo during break times left the same month. Then there was a dispute over whether Theo had pushed an adult on school grounds which resulted in Nina raising a complaint.

The crunch came in March when teachers ‘evacuated’ a classroom due to Theo having a ‘meltdown.’ Staff say in an incident recording form that Theo was kicking, punching and shouting and at this point his shoes were removed from him because he was kicking out.

Nina, who is also autistic, says she was in the school reception area at the time and has questioned why staff didn’t fetch her to deal with her son instead of restraining Theo. She says teachers should have been aware that Theo is ‘tactile defensive’ – meaning he becomes emotional when he is touched.

The events have led to her making complaints to the school, governors and Kent County Council’s safeguarding officer. She says she is now keeping Theo at home until a new school placement is found and gaining the EHCP is vital for her to secure a this at a specialist school. However, the EHCP has been declined and Nina is taking her case to tribunal.

‘I want him to have the full-time education that every child in this country is entitled to.’

She said: “All I have been asking for are reasonable adaptions to be in place for Theo. There has been very little Senco involvement and he has got a referral to Greenbanks for an ADHD assessment.

“His reception teacher in the first year was the best teacher ever and went above and beyond to help him deal with his emotional needs but she left in December.

“I have been telling the school for 18 months that Theo has sensory processing difficulties. More specifically he is tactile defensive. They have it in their records, so they know if he is touched it is likely to cause a meltdown.

“His EHCP has been declined and I was asking from February 2018 for involvement from Specialist Teaching and Learning Services (STLS) which took almost 12 months, until January this year. When an appointment was finally arranged it was cancelled 30 minutes before the assessment was due.

“For Theo to get into a specialist school he needs his EHCP. I want him to have the full-time education that every child in this country is supposedly entitled to.

“Now he seems to have no school, no support and no one-to-one. I feel like I have more chance of winning the lottery than this all working out in Theo’s favour.”

‘Difficulties facing schools and families in gaining specialist provision’

Palm Bay Primary School said staff are working to achieve “a positive outcome,” and support the attempts to gain an EHCP.

But the school, like all others, is also contending with significant cuts to funding meaning some support can be challenging.

Head teacher Lizzie Williams said: “Theo and his parents are members of our school and we do not wish there to be any antagonism or ill-will.  We also recognise the underlying issue that this article raises, namely the difficulties facing schools and families in gaining specialist provision to support children with significant special educational needs.

“One of the reasons Educational Health Care Plans (EHCPs) are so important is that they can name a specialist school to ensure that a child gains access to specialist provision.  In February 2018, the family requested an EHCP through their GP.  For this, we provided supporting evidence to the Local Authority, but the LA’s decision was not to award Theo an EHCP.

“In March 2019, the school requested an EHCP assessment from the LA due to Theo’s increasing needs.  Like the family, we were disappointed that the LA again decided not to carry out an EHCP assessment.

“The school was successful in an application for high needs funding to support Theo.  However, with regard to further pursuing an EHCP, it is not possible for the school to do this while the parents are choosing to keep Theo at home.

“During this time the school has tried to liaise with them and with the Local Authority to support him back into school and to agree the best place for his continued education.

“As a school, we support the family in their desire to gain an EHCP and we feel their difficulty in gaining appropriate funding for placement at a school with specialist provision highlights the difficulties that many families face at this time.  At Palm Bay, we are fully committed to supporting pupils with SEND and we look forward to the continued support and guidance from the Local Authority in doing this. “

Kent County Council

Nina has been contacted by Kent County Council who say a Senior School Improvements Adviser is due to visit the school. The school say they are yet to be notified of the visit but Ms Williams added: “Hopefully, for both the school and family, this will happen soon, as we recognise what a difficult time this must be for Theo and his parents.”

Roger Gough, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education, said: “Kent County Council has been contacted by the family of a pupil at Palm Bay Primary School as they have concerns about the provision their child is receiving.

“We are committed to ensuring every child in Kent has access to a high quality school place that is appropriate for their individual needs and we are working closely with the child, their family and the school to ensure that is able to happen in this case.

“One of KCC’s SEN (Special Educational Needs) Provision Evaluation Officers) is due to visit the school to work with staff and ensure the best possible outcome for this pupil.”

Last month KCC said action was being taken to improve care for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), following a highly critical letter from Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) and the CQC (Care Quality Commission).

The joint letter highlighted failings discovered during an inspection at the end of January this year, Inspectors said children and young people with SEND in Kent experienced unacceptable inequality when accessing services.

Kent County Council and the NHS are now working together on a joint strategy to improve care for children with SEND and regain the trust of parents.


  1. Whilst I can appreciate how difficult it might be when your child’s education comes to a halt due to incorrect provisions being available, Ms Williams hit the nail on the head. Many many families face the same problems regarding ECHPS not being awarded when needed on top of ensuring their children are receiving the correct education according to their specific needs. Many many children/families are awaiting specialist provisions to be put in place, the majority of which have most likely been on waiting lists for years.
    I think it’s very unfair to name and shame particular schools, complain to governors, and centre the whole issue around just one child, not only do the schools have no say in which child will be awarded the care they need, schools all over the county are also suffering cuts to funding and are therefore lacking resources, teachers, one to one, building maintenance affecting EVERY pupil.
    Whilst children are being denied basic resources or a little one to one (because children without special educational needs also require this when struggling to understand, believe it or not) , they are also being distracted and classes are being interrupted by children when having episodes (I know that they can’t help that, and it’s not their fault) but it’s not the rest of the children’s fault either.
    It’s obvious that more provisions need to be readily available and more staff need to be specially trained in providing one to one care, support to families to ensure ALL children receive the correct education that every child is entitled to, which I’m pretty certain is top priority in any school. Mrs Sellens complaints of the school (despite the already generous help of applying for ECHP and including evidence wherever possible) will have little to no effect due to the final decision Ultimately not being theirs to make.
    On two occasions the school have had to deal with outbursts they are not trained to manage at a safe level, disruption of a whole class being evacuated and the safety of other people’s children and teachers Being compromised due to kicking and hitting out. This report merely highlights the selfishness of some parents thinking that the world revolves around their child only. This mother just assumes that the safety of other children or staff can be compromised to go and ‘fetch’ her from the office to calm her boy down and teachers should be aware of Theos’ own specific needs without considering the needs for 20+ other children who’s education is being unfairly interrupted. The school wouldn’t necessarily have trained one to one staff at their disposal and are therefore struggling to manage children with SEN aswell as children suffering bad homelives and poverty with no training or procedures in place to safeguard vulnerable children other than those with SEN.
    The government are responsible for the lack of any service being available let alone basic health care/education/ policing always suffering from further cuts, what a travesty! I dread to think what the future holds, especially for hard working people on minimum wage trying to get by and children having less opportunities, inadequate education and even some living from food banks etc they will eventually grow into adults with no aspirations, no knowledge, bad health leading to addictions and deviations from ‘social norms’ just to enable them to function in today’s society. Adults with mental ill health which cannot be treated or managed due to lack of education, specially trained staff, resources and health care.

    • The school isn’t being shamed Beth. Staff are struggling in the same conditions as other schools with a lack of access to funding and specialist teachers. There is clearly difficult behaviour to deal with and in order to show what is happening you have to have an example. Many many parents from different schools have responded to talk about their own difficulties with EHCPs and special needs provision, something KCC has said it is working on. They need to work harder and we need to be able to show the difficulties families and schools face. Ms Williams has been very candid and her entire statement has been used exactly so this point can be made.

      • I am a parent of a child at Palm Bay School. This school has gone down hill since the new head Lizzie Williams took over 4 years ago. Up to 30 staff have left since her appointment many who had specialist SEND knowledge. I have experienced myself a distinct lack of information/communication when I tried to get specialist help for my child. Lizzie Williams did acknowledge that the school had failed in their handling of my situation and there had been poor communication. I understand the funding issues but good communication costs nothing.

  2. Yet another failing parent(female of course) who is quick to blame professionals for the lack of education of their offspring previously in life.Take some responsibility.

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